By Nenette Motus, Senior Migration Health Policy Advisor, IOM
25 November 2013
While doing a joint health assessment in the Dulangan Evacuation Centre in Pilar, Capiz, we met Maria* a grandmother of about 65-70 years old. She and her family come from the Cantil islands in the coastal areas of Pilar where 59 families earn their living by making fishing nets, which are sold to nearby towns for crabs and lobster fishing. Now she is taking shelter in a school.
When the mayor of their town issued the order to evacuate the island in anticipation of Typhoon Yolanda, the entire community left, first the women, then the men. They heeded the evacuation warning because uppermost in their minds was the memory of Typhoon Undang (international name Typhoon Agnes), which ravaged the central islands of the Visayas region on 5 November 1984. It slammed into Capiz with devastating winds, flattening buildings and houses and snapping trees and electric posts as if they were twigs. The death toll from this very strong typhoon was more than 1,300 with thousands of homes destroyed.
Maria is a survivor of Typhoon Undang. She survived the torrential rain and the rush of the waters by climbing a tree, even though she was six months pregnant. Today, in this evacuation centre, Maria is once again a survivor of another vicious typhoon. With her is her daughter, the same child she was carrying when she climbed that tree to safety 29 years ago.
“Give us the money to buy materials we need and we will be out of here in an instant and back in Cantil”, Maria says in her local dialect. Their men are already back there during the day, rebuilding what is left of their homes and what they can salvage from their surroundings. They need bamboo, nails, nipa shingles (walls made from palm leaves) so that they can go back. Maria and her family (including several grandchildren) now need temporary shelter or assistance to go back to their island - the local government has announced that schools used as evacuation shelters will be closed so that classes can resume.
It is heart-warming to see the cohesion in this family…the way they look out for each other and their resilience in the face of adversity. Somewhere in their souls, they have this deep supply of strength and hardiness that allows them to still smile and go about rebuilding their lives and taking care of their children.